There’s no sugarcoating this one: it was an absolutely awful weekend for wolves.
First, Congress and the Obama administration sold out wolves by including a provision that would eliminate protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, weakening the Endangered Species Act and leaving these magnificent animals with little safety net against the threat of widespread killing. This terrible wolf rider is part of a desperate budget deal expected to be approved later this week.
Next, just hours later, our settlement agreement in the ongoing fight over wolf management was rejected by a federal court – blocking a collaborative path forward that could have helped ensure that science, not politics, dictated decisions on wolf management. This agreement was our best shot at putting scientific standards in place to assure the continued recovery of wolves across the region.
Taken together, these tragic decisions mean that wolves will be completely without federal protection once again. Pending actions in Idaho and Montana also make it clear that those states are anxious to reduce wolf numbers as soon as they can.
The news about the bad wolf rider came in early Saturday, including a statement from Sen. Jon Tester trying to justify why wolves were sold down the river on the budget bill. Final details have yet to emerge, but we believe that the provision would require the Secretary of the Interior to reinstate the same 2009 delisting rule that was struck down in court in August of last year.
Under that rule, wolves in Idaho and Montana and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah would lose all federal protection. Idaho and Montana would be responsible for managing wolves according to federally approved management plans based on decades-old science that could allow all but 100 to 150 wolves per state to be killed. Oregon, Washington and Utah would manage wolves entirely at the discretion of their state governments, even though wolf populations there have not yet recovered. Wolves in Wyoming would remain protected under the Endangered Species Act until the Interior Secretary approves a management plan, but we have little hope that it will be much better than their last plan which allowed wolves to be shot on sight across 90 percent of the state.
No matter what happens, Defenders will continue to hold state wildlife agencies accountable for managing wolves responsibly based on the best available science. We must also work harder than ever to educate people about the value and importance of having wolves on the landscape, and to promote proactive, nonlethal solutions that allow people and wildlife to coexist.
Wolf recovery has been one of the great American conservation success stories, and we’re not about to stand silent if wolves are placed in jeopardy yet again.